This past winter, the Brewers avoided arbitration with reliever Jeremy Jeffress by signing him to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal for $1.75 million that included two team options for $3.175 million and $4.3 million.
While Jeffress could still earn up to $2.2 million in additional incentives every year, it’s still an extremely team-friendly deal for a player that was arbitration-eligible. It turns out that’s because the contract offer was also an ultimatum -- either sign it, or you’re non-tendered.
Jeffress’ agent, Joshua Kusnick, is an active member of social media and the Brewers online community and shed some more light on how those negotiations went down in the days leading up to the non-tender deadline:
Contract thread 2017— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) March 13, 2018
So looking at the 2018 FA market I had 1 potential free agent Jeremy Jeffress. 2016 1st half amazing 2nd half nightmare off field. Spring okay then stumbled to start 17. July 31st rolls around JJ back to Mil
Once in mil 4-0 good 3era and def played his way out of a nontender. Flew to mil i sept and it was expressed a non tender was possible. This was potentially disastrous as JJ wanted 2 things stay in mil and get paid.— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) March 13, 2018
Offers went back and forth and didnt alter much from final deal. Deadline day hits and JJ has metaphorical gun ti his head. I did my job and got almost all he wanted. except thw structure wasnt ideal. Incentives offset that a bit.— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) March 13, 2018
About an hour to go it was explained to JJ by not me....that theres not a no trade and this deal doesnt guarantee goal 1. Staying in mil. JJ then makes the strongest business choice ive ever seen. After listening to me about my utter fear of 2018 fa market i tell him— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) March 13, 2018
Im not a good enough agent to get more elsewherw on a 1 year. He then tells other advisors despite no no trade should he say no it would ensure non tender and he would NOT be in Mil in 18. With that deal was done w 3 minutes to go.— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) March 13, 2018
I did what was best for JJ— Joshua Kusnick (@JoshuaKusnick) March 13, 2018
I will never agree to that structure ever again for anyone. However I did right by JJ and he avoided maybe going to Bradenton for spring. And now hes all set for 3 years god willing. Bought a house and is poised for greatness. I did by job
Kusnick has been outspoken this winter about the possibility of collusion on the free agent market, so it’s interesting to see that he already had fears about his client going into the free agent market even before it was clear it was going to be a slow winter.
While he admits it wasn’t a great deal for his client, he’s also realistic in that Jeffress likely would not have been able to get a similar deal in free agency.
As Tom Haudricourt recently noted in a story about Jeffress, for whatever reason, the right-hander has performed better for the Brewers than he has anyone else in his career, with a career 2.56 ERA in 176 innings in Milwaukee, as opposed to a 4.76 ERA in 96.1 innings everywhere else.
Other teams likely would’ve noticed that, too, and making millions would’ve been out of the question if he was one of the many relievers trying to find work this winter. Jeffress himself noticed it and told Haudricourt that’s why he was willing to gamble on himself:
“I know I’ve done much better here with other teams. That’s why I wanted to come back. It was a tough winter for a lot of guys but I wanted to come back to Milwaukee if at all possible. I know my contract is not guaranteed but if I do what I know I can do, it will all fall into place.”
Whether or not the Brewers end up picking up those options remains to be seen, and likely depends on what kind of role Jeffress ends up filling this year. He’s had a good start to the spring, and Craig Counsell has routinely mentioned him as one of the six relievers essentially guaranteed a spot in a crowded bullpen.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference